Often times, less information is better. We don’t always want or need to know everything about everything, especially when it comes to human illness and the thousands of things that can cause it. They say knowledge is power, and that is certainly true. But knowledge can also be quite a burden. That said, the norovirus has become part of the American lexicon in recent months, so let’s see what this virus is all about and how you might be able to prevent or fight it.
The norovirus is very common in humans of all ages. Its main symptoms are gastrointestinal distress (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain) and overall tiredness, weakness, chills, aches, cough, and sometimes a fever. The norovirus is commonly confused as the influenza virus, but they are in fact different. Often times when people think they have the flu, they actually have norovirus which is also sometimes called the stomach flu. But the true influenza virus is not typically characterized by gastroenteritis (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), although the weak, tired, and achy feelings can be similar with both viruses. If contracted, the norovirus starts replicating in the small intestine and symptoms usually appear within 1-2 days. It is typically not serious, rarely becomes a severe sickness, and the body usually recovers just fine on its own. True influenza virus has a longer recovery time, often at least a week.
Preventing the spread and infection of norovirus is not rocket science, and you probably already know most of the preventative steps. That said, it’s a very hardy virus and only a few particles can cause an infection. Norovirus can spread through human-to-human contact, on shared surfaces, on contaminated food and beverages, and even through the air. Hand washing is one good preventative measure, especially in situations where you’re in close contact with many other people. Norovirus is especially common and contagious in high-volume, close-contact environments like hospitals, restaurants, prisons, dorms, and cruise ships. Norovirus is easily and often carried on food, so make sure and wash and rinse thoroughly all food and cook foods to the proper temperatures. In fact, norovirus is often the cause of what some people refer to as food poisoning, as the symptoms are similar. It has been estimated that as much as 50% of food-borne stomach illness is due to the norovirus.
Treatment of norovirus is basically just a managing of the symptoms. Because it is a virus (and not a bacteria), antibiotics are of no help. Your body’s immune system should be able to fight it off just fine in a couple of days, and simply managing your symptoms is the best route to recovery. The vomiting and diarrhea can leave you severely dehydrated, and this is perhaps the most serious symptom. In order for your immune system to fight the disease, proper hydration is of the utmost importance. Water and juices are the best routes to keeping yourself hydrated. Try and avoid anything too sugary, as this can worsen diarrhea, and (it should probably go without saying), avoid caffeine and alcohol which themselves can cause more gastrointestinal distress and lead to greater dehydration. Also (this should also probably go without saying), don’t prepare or handle food while sick or even in the few days after getting well.
So there you have it, the wonderful, fascinating, and havoc-wreaking norovirus. If you’re a human being (if you’re reading this, chances are good), then you no doubt have had the norovirus at least once in your life and probably at least once in the past year. It is very common in humans, and can be spread so easily in so many different ways that it’s a wonder that more people aren’t infected. Preventative measures like hand-washing and practicing good food safety can go a long way toward preventing an infection. And if you do become infected, realize that you’re extremely contagious and you should probably be put in a big plastic bubble for a few days. Short of that though, at least try and stay hydrated and rested, and be very wary of contacting other humans, surfaces, and food. And know that the norovirus and influenza are two different viruses, with different pathologies, that cause different symptoms. A flu shot will not prevent against norovirus (although a vaccine for norovirus is in the works and could be on the market in the coming years). Ok, now go disinfect your countertops and rinse the vegetables for tonight’s salad. But please, first wash your hands.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube
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